Sunday, 1 December 2013

"3.7. Over and out."

There are a number of inevitable signs of ageing. The odd ache here, the occasional pain there. The inability to get out of (or into) a chair without grunting. We expect this sort of thing.

But no-one ever warns you that your childhood heroes will - also inevitably - get old and start to pass on.

This was brought home to me a couple of days ago with the news that Lewis Collins, best known as Bodie in the late seventies TV series, The Professionals, had died at the age of 67.

For those of us of a certain age, this show has a special resonance. To explain, I have to take you back to Britain 35 years ago. It was a world of brown polyester. Politicians all looked about 100 years old. Newscasters spoke in measured tones, displaying carefully received Home Counties pronunciation.

If you were, like me, an eight-year-old boy, whatever TV you saw, on the three channels we had, was strictly limited. If you wanted to see a cop show - and let's face it, which eight-year-old boy wouldn't - you'd probably be faced with a succession of American imports.

Don't get me wrong. Starski & Hutch was great. But to this young Brit, it might as well have been set on an alien planet. People drove cars the size of small counties. They ate in diners where they'd casually toss dollar bills on the counter before leaving. There were a lot of guns. And inexplicably, they'd have telephones in every room of the house.

I was easily impressed at the age of eight.

But then The Professionals came about, and it was totally different. They drove Ford Escorts like that chap across the road. They had banter. Rather than gunplay, Bodie and his bubble-permed sidekick Doyle would normally give the baddies a quick slap.

It was a little shabby around the edges. It was grim and grey in places. It was ours.

On Friday nights, if we were very lucky, Dad would have have gone to the Boundary Chippy for our tea. We'd lie on the floor, all five of us gathered around our rented Granada TV, watching as the heroes of CI5 set the world to rights and winked at a lot of girls along the way.

And let's be honest. Who couldn't fail to have their eight-year-old mind blown by this?

I can almost taste the vinegar.

So farewell then, Lewis Collins. You and your CI5 colleagues made a big impact on me. Maybe I'll go and drive through some cardboard boxes next week, just as a tribute.

If you're around my age, you'll know exactly what I mean.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Crystal clear

Exactly 15 years ago today. I was sitting in this very room. I was playing Gran Turismo on my Playstation, with a moustachioed gentleman called Stuart.

That's not exactly the main topic of this post.

As we tried to upgrade our virtual Nissan Skylines, we were drinking John Smiths Bitter from cans. John Smiths, for those of you who don't know, is terrible beer. It is beer for people who don't like beer.

Again, that's not really the main topic of this post.

But Stuart was there for a reason. He was to be my Best Man, for the day afterwards - 15 years ago tomorrow - I was to get married. It was Stuart's job to drive me to the church. Not in a Skyline, but a Micra. It was that kind of deal.

Fifteen years later - our crystal anniversary - and Stuart is no longer on the scene. I don't play Gran Turismo, and avoid John Smiths Bitter where I can.

But Katie is still here. I'm at a loss to understand why, but I'm grateful every day.

You should not marry the person you can live with. You should instead marry the person you can't live without.

Sing it, Van.

(If you can't see a video of Van Morrison singing our first dance song here, blame YouTube, Apple, the Internet Cabal, Piers Morgan or all of the above.)

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Back to life, back to real ale and tea

Yes, I know. It's been a while. About six weeks, in fact. Sorry about that. I've been busy, you see.

Well, when I say busy, I'm playing a little fast-and-loose with the whole concept. A significant proportion of my time in Marrakech last month was not, in any way, stressful.

Colourful drinks by the side of a pool featured quite heavily in the proceedings.

But it would be wrong to say I spent all my time in a sedentary position. We did get up and around, from time to time. Since our return, whenever anyone's asked me about Morocco, I've mumbled something along the lines of, "Oh yes, a fascinating country."

Which is partly my way of deflecting attention away from the whole 'lying by a pool, drink in hand, European house music in the middle distance' thing. Because in fairness, that only applied to a small amount of our time over there.

Morocco - or at least the bit we saw - is truly fascinating. Get yourself over there if you don't believe me. (Just not right now; it's Ramadan and the temperature's in the high forties. The people were lovely when we were there last month, they must be somewhat distracted at the moment. I know I'd be.)

It's a terrible cliche, but there was something for everyone. 900-year-old cities, the hustle of the souks, the muezzin's call to prayer drifting in on the afternoon's breeze. I even managed to be vaguely arty with my photos. My memory card was groaning by the time we got back; hopefully I avoided any cheesy 'here I am standing in front of a landmark' ones:

OK, scratch that:

Djemaa al-fna Square. Simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and scary places I've ever been. Snake charmers, story-tellers, chaps with monkeys, beggars and blokes trying to flog knock-off Dr Dre headphones. If you want it, you can get it here. Although you might need a shot afterwards.

It wasn't all hustle and bustle. We went up into the Atlas mountains and visited the Berber people there.

Sitting in the house of a village elder, we watched as he made sweet mint tea with which to greet us, passing the water several times through the pot - a ceremony as old as time itself - before pouring it from on high, a stream of hot sweet liquid into narrow glasses.

The effect was lessened only slightly by the Sony Trinitron TV in the corner of the room, hurriedly covered up with a cloth. The 21st century gets everywhere.

We went out to dinner in the medina, the old Marrakech, in a riad. That's basically a townhouse with a very nice garden in a central courtyard. We sat, watching the sky slowly darken from cobalt blue to inky black. red-clad waiters silently brought course after course. Arabic and African musicians entertained us. It was, without any doubt, a night I'll remember for ever.

Going out to a Harvester doesn't really compare.

Returning to England was a real culture shock. I missed the heat. I missed being woken every morning by the tree full of finches outside our window. I missed walking back to our room at night with the bullfrogs and cicadas providing a chorus. I missed the smile of Ismail, the barman whose idea of a gin cocktail was Lots Of Gin. I missed the Brownian motion that passes for traffic over there (I'm not kidding - we were in the country for one hour before we saw our first dead body on the road).

Morocco? Fascinating country.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Visca el Barça!

I have for a very long time thought that to be British was in many ways similar to having won the lottery in life. Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware of other places. I know also that people from elsewhere probably consider their homes as being pretty good, too

I won't disagree. Especially after having spent a few days in Barcelona earlier this month.

I mean, Barcelonians (I am almost certain this is incorrect) have pretty much won the rollover in life, haven't they? You've got the combination of a great climate, cloudless blue skies, a gentle breeze rolling in from the Med.

You have a city that mixes gothic with modern, where you let artists design your buildings. Look at these:

That final one is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, which they started building in 1882 and is still underway now. I'm not a particularly church-y person, but it pushed my buttons.

I can imagine town planning meetings in Barcelona must be like:
"I'd like to put this building up. It's a little bit left-of-field."
"Does it have a roof like the back of a giant dragon?"
"You're just not trying, sunshine. Come back next week."
If you live in Barcelona you have art galleries, museums and parks on your doorstep. You can get from one side of the city for a few euros. You have the technological quarter, with wide airy boulevards taking you into and out of the centre with ease. You seem to figured out the whole 'living well in a modern environment' thing. You have sensible living areas and spaces to work and live in.

Your local cuisine is like this:

You have a football team that is successful and admired by everyone in Europe. That's something that just doesn't happen, normally.

If you live in Barcelona, you're surrounded by waiters who don't know when to stop when pouring drinks (I accept this might be a tourist thing, but bear with me). This is what passes for two sangrias:

This is not a poster for sensible drinking. We flew black from Barcelona with livers like pickled walnuts.

I'm sure, like any other large city, there are less favourable elements. But in short, if you live in Barcelona, I'm bloody jealous of you. You really have won the lottery of life. I'll be coming back to see you again at some point in the future. And I'd recommend that anyone reading this does so, too.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

On the Marrakesh express

This is most unlike me. Us. It's most unlike us.

For a number of years, our idea of a holiday has been quite simple and described using these five words: get away from it all.

Quite what It All is, we've never been quite sure. But we aim to distance ourselves from it at least once a year. So our holidays have involved going somewhere quiet, relatively private and lacking in both hussle and bustle. Climate doesn't enter into the equation.

There's a reason why we're not fussy about the weather at our intended destination. I am, by nature, north-west European and don't go in for heat. Warm weather is just so damned un-British. You get all sweaty and unpleasant. You have to worry about what the sun's doing to your pearly white flesh. I have Irish ancestors. We don't worship the sun, we run away from it in fear.

An early holiday with Katie, not long after we got together, saw us spending some time on a beach. And while she went a deep golden brown, I opted for Shade of Lobster and spent a significant proportion of the next fortnight screaming, "Don't touch me!" in a strangulated falsetto.

Which is not what you want to be saying in the early stages of a relationship.

So if, on holiday, I look out of the window to see rain lashing down, I generally say, "Marvellous," out loud,  reach for a good book and put some John Martyn on the stereo. I am a man of simple, temperate tastes.

Which is why it's all the more puzzling that we've booked two weeks in Morocco in June.

I've checked and, yes, this is an African country. It's bordering the Sahara desert. We'll be just outside Marrakesh, home of the beguiling Jemaa el-Fnaa, the busiest market square in the continent.  A heady mixture of spices, souks, mosques and ancient, history-soaked streets await us. We'll have the Atlas Mountains off in one direction, home of ancient Berber tribes. I will eat quite a lot of lamb dishes.

All of which sounds lovely. But I'm going to melt.

I'm told that everywhere will have air-conditioning. It's a modern country, after all. But you still have to walk from one air-conditioned bit to another air-conditioned bit. And I don't think the ancient souk is going to be quite so well-equipped. Thinking about it, in order to be respectful to the locals, it occurs to me that you need to cover up a little bit. So the Speedos are out of the question, which, on reflection, is probably a good thing.

I've just looked at the temperature for Marrakesh. A couple of hours ago, in the early evening, it was a balmy 26 degrees celsius, or 79 degrees in old money. But with undisguised glee, Katie tells me that she's researched the typical daytime temperature for June. By all accounts, 40 (104 in fahrenheit) is about par for the course.

Seriously. I am going to melt.

The famed Berber storytellers, who gather in the market square at night, are going to have a new tale to tell. About the pale ghost from the north who simply burst into flames one day.

This should be interesting.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Gone solo

There are any number of things that I'm quite good at.

OK. I accept that was a little ambitious. I'll try again.

There are some things I'm quite good at.

Still too much?  I'll try again.

There are one or two things I'm quite good at. But there is something new I need to add to the burgeoning 'Not Very Good at This' pile.  I would make a lousy hermit.

On the face of it, being a hermit sounds quite reasonable. You get plenty of time to yourself. It's nice and quiet. You don't tend to get people calling you up about PPI reclaiming. In many ways, hermiting has a lot going for it.

Yes, that's a word. Because I said so, alright?

But I'm not cut out to be a hermit. Mainly because I'm not very good spending prolonged time on my own. And as far as I'm aware, you can't be a hermit that goes and mixes with people during working hours. That won't do. That's not hermiting.

My inability at spending time by myself has been brought home to me this weekend. She Who Must Be Obeyed has been away since Friday morning, visiting relatives in Southampton.

(I need to digress here for a second. I mentioned to someone last week that Katie was going to Southampton. "Lovely," they said. "Have you ever been?" I asked. "Well, no, I haven't," they said brightly, "but I've been to Northampton." True story.)

Anyway. My wife will have been out of town for three whole nights before she returns tomorrow.  I am in the house on my own. And at first it sounded like it could have been a blast. I could have drunk beer and eaten unhealthy food, for instance. This apparent freedom is only lessened by the fact that we do that when she's here anyway, so no change there, then.

I had a disgustingly long lie-in yesterday morning. But we tend to have long lie-ins at the weekend in any case. I lounged on the sofa for a significant proportion of the day.  Again, nothing new there.

But I was beginning to notice the difference. I went hours without speaking. And telling the cat off for bringing in another bumble bee from the garden doesn't count. It's not a particularly memorable conversation; the cat doesn't really go in for snappy comebacks.

I'll tell you this. Our house is scarily quiet when there's just me there. After I'd derided the cat for another insectoid murder, we settled down. Eric scuttled off to his radiator-hammock-bed device, doubtless wondering why the smellier of the two humans he owned was alone. I tried to read a thrilling article on the internet about World War 2 artillery shells.  I have no particular interest in the subject, but I thought I should try and do something different.  But the silence was overwhelming.  Really oppressive, and ever so slightly unnerving.

I went out. I came back in. I find it best to do those two activities in that order. If you try to come in before you go out, you're essentially circling yourself in the hallway of your home. And that way lies madness. I came back in to a silent, forbidding house. I never realised the sound the central heating boiler made when it comes on. When the fridge-freezer kicked in I almost jumped.

Tomorrow evening, Katie will be home. She'll be talking to me about her weekend, and checking the house to see whether I've managed to break anything. There will be Something Wrong that is my fault, and she will remind me of this fact. Whether it is my fault or not, she will, of course, be right.

Good. Because I think my short hermitage is sending me slightly mad.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The working week

Don't think of this as just a blog post. Consider it instead an open letter.  I'm aiming this at the utility companies, people who offer domestic services, like plumbing, electricians, etc.

Chaps. I'm going to tell you something that might just blow your mind. It's this.

You know your customers? You know, the people to whom you send bills? Those folk who ring you up and ask daft questions? Yep, those people. A lot of them - I'd guess a good proportion - work Monday to Friday, during what we'll call, oh, I don't know, working hours.

So if you want to provide a service to these customers in their homes, here's a rather novel idea. How about offering it at the weekend?

I know. It's dangerously radical. But it might just work.

I mention this because we've been getting letters from a company called E-On. For the non-Brits reading this, E-On is a major utility company in the UK that evidently allowed the Marketing Director's 8-year-old to come up with their corporate name.

The good people of E-On had been writing frantically to me over a period of about 12 months. I didn't owe them any money, which makes a pleasant change. They were writing because they wanted to change my electricity meter. Apparently there's a law. By all accounts, you have to get it changed every 10 years or so, in order to make sure it remains accurate. We've lived here for 16 years, happily motoring along with the meter that was here when we moved in, but who am I to get in the way of progress?

As it's not considered wise to go mucking about with what is essentially the main electricity supply to the house, they would need to cut power for 20 minutes while they swap meters. So the letters asked us for a convenient time when we'd be here.

They're really flexible, these E-On bods. I could pick any day, from Monday to Friday. Morning or afternoon. Positively bending over backwards to help, they were.

In the working week, between the hours of 8am and 6pm, this house is occupied by a cat. And while Eric is reasonably intelligent, I think it would be unfair to expect him to negotiate with an electrician.

So what did I do? I ignored the first letter. And the second, third and fourth, despite their increasingly desperate nature. My lights still worked. I was still receiving and paying the bills.

Eventually, I took pity on E-On. I made contact to tell them that we have this really weird practice in our house, called 'going to work' and what could they do about it?

"Oh, no problem. Let's get you a weekend appointment arranged."

"I'm sorry? But your letter, sorry, letters, don't mention weekends at all. They make it clear that it's Monday to Friday, or nothing."

"Ah yes," chuckled the operative, "we can do this on a Saturday or Sunday.  But you see, we don't mention weekends on the letter. Because if we did, people might want to book the appointments for then instead."

At this point, I actually took the phone away from my ear and stared at it. You know how, in old caper-style films, there'd be that bit where an old drunk witnesses something unlikely, then looks at his bottle of whisky in confusion? It was like that. Only with a phone. Not whisky.

"Yes," I said. "I suppose they might. Given the chance."

"Now sir," she said, not detecting my raised eyebrows over the phone, "I'll pass your details to the team that books weekend appointments." They have a team for this? Who knew? "They'll be in touch."

Which is how, a week or so later, on an early evening, I found myself speaking to the Weekend Meter Changing Appointment Booking Team. I'm not sure if that's their official title.

"Oh, I am glad we've been able to contact you sir," E-On's Emma said.

"I'm sorry, what do you mean?"

"Well, I've been calling your home number all day today to book your weekend appointment. But there hasn't been an answer."

"You've been calling me at home?"


"Because you need your meter-fitting-bloke to come round at the weekend?"

"That's right," she said, brightly. 

I briefly stared at the phone again. It seemed the right thing to do, in the circumstances. Come on Emma, I thought. Work with me here. I spoke slowly. "We need a weekend appointment as we're not here in the week. It's Thursday. You've been calling my home number all day and you haven't been getting an answer. Because.....?"

Nothing. Nada. Rien. The penny was not for dropping. I swear I could hear the sound of tumbleweed. In the distance, a lonesome coyote howled. This is how Kafka got started.

"Never mind, Emma. It's not important. How about Saturday next week?"

So, companies of Great Britain. Think about the weekend, why don't you? It doesn't have to be difficult.

Well, not unless you deliberately make it so.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Bitter and twisted

I'm not as young as I used to be. But then again, who is?

I'm getting more reminders of my advancing years. Some of them are quite obvious. I find it impossible to get out of a chair without making involuntary noises, for instance. My casual wardrobe appears to have rather too much beige in it for my liking.

Come to think of it, I have something I refer to as a 'casual wardrobe'. God, I'm old.

But the key thing that tells me I'm getting old is that I can't do the things I used to do. Which is a little worrying, to be honest, because the list of things I used to do wouldn't have needed much paper in the first place.

I was reminded about this a few weeks ago, when two friends and I made the fatal error of having a drink or two at lunchtime. I know. It's hardly Touching the Void, is it? You have your personal challenges, I have mine.

I remember when things were different. I've never been what you would call a heavy drinker. No, really. And it's not something I claim as a badge of honour. But I at least used to be able to function after a pint or two in the middle of the day.

The day started out with promise. Chris, Mike and I had a fun day ahead of us. A tour of a local brewery in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter was the centrepiece, and perhaps the alarm bells should have been ringing at this point. Our train had got us there a little early,so what did we do to kill time?

"Oh, this is a good pub," I said, indicating The Lord Clifden. "Perhaps we can nip in here for a quick pint."

So we did. For we are men, and this is what we do. The 'quick pint ' is one of mankind's greatest inventions. In that 20 minutes and 568 millilitres, the issues of the day can be discussed and resolved by right-minded men. There was even some football on the TV at the time. I believe Everton United were playing Tottenham City, or something like that.

Suitably refreshed, and having made some pertinent points about Everton's command of the midfield, we made our way to the brewery. I've done brewery tours before. You're guided around large vats and pipes, interesting substances bubbling away and creating magic. Your worthy guide talks you through the process and at the end you get a small sample of the result of this alchemy.

This was not the case at Two Towers Brewery. With all visitors accounted for, the head brewer started the tour off with: "Right then. Who's for a pint?" There were no widdly little sample glasses here.

Pints in hand, we listened as he gave a brief history of the brewery and outlined the different beers produced. This took about 30 minutes or so. And at the end, he looked at us once more and asked this question.

"Right then. Who's for another pint?"

Chris looked at Mike. Mike looked at me. I looked at Chris and Mike. It would have been rude not to take the gentleman up on his offer. So we did.

Then he walked us around the brewery where we did the fore-mentioned vat-and-pipe experience. We got to smell hops. (Here's a hint. Hops generally smell disgusting.) And at the end, he asked the assembled crowd another question.

"Right then. Anyone fancy a pint?"

I was beginning to hyperventilate. Chris was breathing from memory. Mike's eyes were moving independently of each other. But there was a man offering us beer. So we had to partake.

The tour over, we made our way back up Great Hampton Street. We weren't by any means roaring drunk, although clearly operating heavy machinery was well beyond us by this point. But we were certainly feeling the effects of mid-day drinking.

"I used to think nothing of this when I was younger," I said to the others as we we lolloped along. "But I just want to have a lie down now."

"Food," said Chris, as if just the word alone would make sense. Mike nodded his agreement. Yes. Food. That might help.

So we went back into the pub we'd visited earlier. Clearly our critical reasoning had taken a bit of a hit. But we settled for Pepsi to go with our deep-fried lifesavers. I never thought I'd feel quite so horrified at the thought of another beer. But I was.

On the train home, Chris stayed quiet. Mike closed his eyes and contacted the mothership. Each of us reflected on the cruelty of ageing. Time was when we were alehouse athletes, beer drinkers and hellraisers. Now all we wanted after a few mid-day pints was a lie down. How the mighty had fallen.

We each retired to the safety of our own homes. I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a nap. I think I might have put some slippers on. They weren't beige, so that was a good sign.

That night, Chris, Mike and I met once more for a curry. The waiter asked if we wanted drinks. I looked at Mike. Mike looked at Chris. Chris looked at the waiter. "Three pints of Cobra, please."

It's amazing what a nap can do.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The perils of not being arsed

This is the post where I make out that this blog - which is essentially a bunch of ones and zeroes sitting on a Google server somewhere - is a physical place. "Blimey," I'll say out loud, to no-one in particular, "it's been a bit quiet in here lately, hasn't it?"

What I actually mean is that the afore-mentioned zeroes and ones haven't really been added to for some time. I've been lazy. It's been remiss of me. Mea culpa. I have no excuses.

I can't blame my medical condition. The operation has largely been a success, and I no longer make a noise like Brian Blessed gargling with lentils while I attempt to sleep. In any case, it would be really crappy to claim that a hurty throat and wonky nose were somehow stopping me from writing. We've seen novels written by bed-bound patients who could only blink, for goodness sake.

My inability to eat crisps for three weeks hardly compares.

No, my silence has been caused by another affliction. Not Being Arsed.

For the Americans amongst you, I should explain. You're probably used to the word 'arse' being our equivalent to 'ass' and are worrying about whether 'being arsed' is something to be mentioned on a blog that is, nominally at least, safe for work. But the whole 'being arsed' thing is a peculiarly British version of ennui. It's low-level demotivation. I shall explain with an example.

"Wayne, fancy coming down the pub tonight?"

"You know what, Shane? I think I'll stay in. I really can't be arsed."

It's quite tricky. You come home from work, do the chores that you need to be performed, and then all you want is to stare into the middle distance. You don't want to attempt anything else. You just can't be arsed, quite frankly. Just stare aimlessly. I'm good at this. Don't try to challenge me. I can stare into the middle distance with the best of them.

Please don't ask me to do anything that requires any thought or dedication. I've got some staring to do.

And so Monday turns into Tuesday turns into Wednesday. Weeks pass. You stop staring for a moment and realise that you haven't written anything in ages. Meh. Can't be arsed. I've got my stare on.

But then I realised that I couldn't claim to be a writer if I didn't actually write. It would like trying to be a baker if you didn't bake. Or a butcher that didn't butch.

So I'm going to try to do something a little more productive than middle-distance staring. I'm going to try to be arsed, once in a while.

Make of that what you will.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Gender confusion

Picture the scene. It is a Sunday lunchtime in a perfectly agreeable pub. We are gathered there to celebrate a milestone birthday for Brother number 1. Several generations are there. The menu is full of options and the beer choices are multiple.

Katie is in driving duty. It is the best of all outcomes.

My sister-in-law is pregnant, very pregnant. She pulls Katie and me to one side as we arrive.

"My mom and dad are due in a few minutes," she says. "The only thing is, they don't yet know the sex of the baby. They chose not to know."

Pretty much everyone else around the table knows the gender of her baby. We've known this for ages. We've talked about it at length, discussing name choices, nursery decorating options, the full nine yards.

To be honest, it's got to the point where we don't even think it newsworthy.

But here's the thing. Once someone tells you not to mention something, it is impossible to do so. Or at least, colossally difficult.

There then followed a really anxious hour or so. I felt like I was parsing everything to myself before saying it. Mere small talk was a potential minefield. Could my choice of condiments possibly give away the gender of my nephew/niece to be?

No, I tell myself. Don't be ridiculous. But then I have a vision of me blurting it out somehow. A table-load of faces looks at me with disappointment. To be honest, I'm not surprised. I snap myself out of my reverie and attack the roast beef, hoping that doesn't somehow indicate the sex of a foetus in some cultures.

We managed to get to the end of the meal without divulging any secrets, but it was tough.

This* is why I never joined the Army. I'd be terrible under torture.

Postscript: my nephew was actually born less than a week after this meal. I don't need to watch what I say anymore. Which is just as well.

*(Yeah, because that's the only reason.)

Monday, 21 January 2013

Talkin' 'bout my operation

Well, this has been a fascinating seven days. It started off last Monday with an overnight stay at one of Birmingham's most exclusive addresses. While the room was nice and the food seemed OK, I don't think I'll be mentioning them on TripAdvisor. Not after one of their employees came at me with a sharpened instrument.

Things started to look a little iffy when we showed up at the wrong hospital. There are two BMI hospitals in Edgbaston and I assumed I'd be having the operation at the same one where my consultation took place in December. That would have been sensible. It's why I hadn't properly checked the details beforehand. The receptionist said: "You're at the wrong place," with a weary sigh and handed out a pre-printed map to the correct one. All of this in a manner which suggested this happened to her several times a day.

None of this was doing my prevailing anxiety any favours. We found the right place, parked up and were shown to my room. They asked me what I wanted to order for my evening meal. Forms were bandied about with gusto. Then the blood pressure test started.

I mentioned I was a little anxious, didn't I? I get even more stressed out when someone puts a cuff on my arm and inflates it. How does a blood pressure reading of 220/170 sound? I'm no expert, but apparently that's a little on the high side, unless you're a Komodo dragon.

I am not a Komodo dragon.

After a degree of humming and hahhing they said they'd try again later. In the meantime I changed into the theatre gown and glamorous DVT stockings. Katie gave me a look which suggested she'd probably never found me more attractive than that moment in time.

The grumpy resident doctor - a Russian who was having no truck with the whole concept of bedside manner - came back to check my blood pressure several times. It seemed as if he took the steadfast refusal of my figures to reduce as some sort of slur on his professional standard. "This is just anxiety," he said. "In my country they would have let me give you diuretic. But here..." he sighed and let the rest of the sentence go.

After a while a terribly nice chap took me on the bed. That sounds wrong but I'm not changing it. The anaesthetist inserted a cannula in my hand, flicked a switch and asked me to count to ten. I don't remember anything after five.

Waking up in the recovery room, people fussed around me and my surgeon gave me a grin and the thumbs up. Which was nice, but someone appeared to have put a sofa up each nostril, plus my throat appeared to have been sandpapered from the inside. I was hooked up to a drip and an oxygen mask, which seemed to be bit overly dramatic, but I thought I should let them get on with it. They wheeled me back to my room, where Katie was waiting, checking through the dinner menu.

After an hour of real discomfort they removed the bolsters from my nose. This (a) made it possible for me to breathe through it properly, and (b) was quite possibly the grossest thing I have ever seen. After some touching moments where we probably called each other rude names, Katie went home and I settled in for the night. Doctor Soviet came back in and was pleased with my 130/70 reading. I laid awake, read and pressed a button every couple of hours to summon lovely, angelic nurses. With liquid morphine.

Katie was a little put out the following morning when we had the discussion with my surgeon about post-op care. "It used to be the case that tonsillectomy patients went for ice-cream and jelly," he said. "But that's not the current advice. Eat normal food - a little scratchiness helps, actually, as it helps to keep the area clean."

As we walked out, Katie reflected: "I've gone and bought the European soup mountain. Now what?"

"Wouldn't it be more accurate to refer to it as a soup lake?"

I got a look for that.

I've been housebound now for seven days, taking painkillers on a two-hourly basis when awake. Nothing too drastic - a bit of codeine and several other over-the-counter ones. They're not 100% effective and at times eating has been painful. Really, tears-in-the-eyes, banging-your-foot painful. Maybe it'll help me reconsider my relationship with food. After all, when you've been hurt by a cottage pie you tend to revise your opinions.

But the other night Katie took a call from her aunt, who was asking after me. Her aunt is in her 70s and is currently undergoing treatment for cancer, meaning she has to drive to a hospital 20 minutes away several times a week for chemo. And she was asking how I was.

I feel such a fraud.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The delightful gentleman

It's official. I'm a 'delightful gentleman'. Well, that's what this letter I've got from the surgeon says. He's written to my GP, thanking him for referring me, a 'delightful gentleman', to him. I don't normally get reviews like that - the best I've had to date is 'prompt and efficient payer' on eBay.

I don't mix with surgeons, as a rule. But I've got this problem, you see. I've mentioned it before, in fact. I appear to be having problems with breathing and sleeping. I can't do both of them at the same time, for starters. Over the last couple of years I've had my various tubes - well, the airways anyway - prodded and poked by the best in the Midlands. I've spent the night dressed as a Poundland Darth Vader. All to no avail.

So just before Christmas I went to see a surgeon. He actually has a title with rather too many syllables in it, but basically he's a chap who knows his onions. And when someone with all those syllables inserts a camera and says: "Ah ha - I think I see the problem," then I'm going to listen.

As a result, I'm shortly going into hospital for an operation. Well, two operations, actually. Something called a septoplasty, then a tonsillectomy. The septoplasty is designed to sort out my comedy nose. Sadly, as it's an internal op, I don't get to choose a new nose, which is a shame as I quite liked the Adrien Brody look. Never mind. And the surgeon recommended whipping out my tonsils at the same time as (a) it might improve my breathing and (b) there's a two-for-one offer on in January.

By the way, when you're due an operation, do not, under any circumstances, look it up on Google. Or, for that matter, on Youtube. It tends to give you pause for thought, that's all I'm saying.

So I'm a bit nervous. In fact, to use the vernacular, I'm ever-so-slightly bricking it. It's not the operation so much. I'm not that worried about someone coming at my face with a sharp implement; I've drunk in enough Birmingham pubs, so I'm used to that. It's the general anaesthetic that's causing me concern. What if it doesn't go to plan? Although I will admit that there would be a delicious irony in that happening, given that I'm going through all this so I can sleep better.

But here's the thing. I'm sick and tired. Literally. I want to start sleeping again. I want to get on better with the people around me, not being distant and grumpy with friends, family and colleagues. I want to be better at doing the job that I enjoy, not falling asleep in meetings and feeling unwilling to do more.And I want to be able to spend the whole night in bed with my wife, not having one of us creep off to try and snooze fitfully on a sofa somewhere.

I don't want superpowers. I just want to do what everyone else does. When people say they've had a good night's sleep, I always think, "show-off." So that's why, on Monday afternoon, I'll be having this done to me. Hopefully I can be a delightful gentleman once more.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Random musings 2013

The year is six days old. Colour me tardy.

Each year since 2008 I've done this. It's become an annual tradition. Which is what you expect from something that you do each year. There's a clue, right there.

It's very simple - just pick up your iPod (or similar), put it on shuffle, write about the weirdness that ensues. This is what it looked like last year. And you can do the same too - just write about it in the comments. And you're not allowed to skip over the dodgy things in your music collection.

Right then. Hold onto your pants. This might not be pretty:

1: Dream Theater - Scenes From a Dream Act II, Scene 9 - Finally Free

Oh dear. I've spent a lot of the last few weeks trying to convince the new chap at work that I don't just listen to prog rock, and now this happens. In fairness, Dream Theater aren't prog rock. They're prog metal, managing in one fell swoop to combine the two least fashionable genres in music. It's a concept album about a man who re-imagines himself as the victim as a historic murder case. Or something. To be honest, I'm not sure. There are lots of widdly guitar solos and ludicrous lyrics. Quite frankly, this is not helping.

2: Paul Weller - Sunflower

This is from his Wildwood album, which I think I love more than is entirely healthy. Ah, the memories. Driving around with this on at full blast. An afternoon in the Clent Hills with SheWhoMustBeObeyed, pre-marriage, before we'd moved in together, when a sudden rainstorm meant we had to take cover in the car. Ahem.

3: Sigur Ros - Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa

Silence. Then industrial noise and feedback, which gradually fades. Guitars and piano come into the foreground, playing a mournful refrain. The bass provides a counterpoint. Ethereal strings act as a celestial choir. The drums enter gently about four minutes in. You look at the screen and realise there are still six minutes to go. An echoing voice starts, enunciating in a hybrid of Icelandic and elvish. Not one to choose for your ringtone, then.

4: The Proclaimers - Let's Get Married

I didn't 'get' The Proclaimers when they first came out. Then I heard one of their songs (Sunshine on Leith) and had to have one of my brisk walks around the block. ("No, I'm fine, it's just something in my eye.") I got their Greatest Hits, found it to be choc-a-block with close harmonies, challenging pronunciation and cracking tunes, like this one. It's really rather ace and includes lines like, "You can get a cat, just as long as it barks."

5: Scott Matthews - City Headache

He's a singer/songwriter in the folk/indie vein. Now, I know what you're thinking, but you're safe from any Ed Sheeranisms. He's from Wolverhampton, so practically up the road from me. This is from his first album, Passing Strangers. Which you are going to buy. Look into my eyes. Try if you can to ignore the Dream Theater earlier on - I can be trusted sometimes.

Right. Now it's your turn. Five random tracks, no skipping, put them in the comments.


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